It feels like I've written more about Theatre Downtown in the past few months since its closing was announced than I did in the previous five years, but this column marks the really-for-real end of an era. Following what seemed like more final farewells than Cher and Return of the King combined, the Theatre Downtown family gathered on Saturday, Jan. 24, for one last goodbye to the well-worn warehouse at the corner of Orange and Princeton. The evening, which was swiftly assembled by performer/playwright David Strauss, featured folk music performances, a trivia game with actors reciting favorite lines from past Theatre Downtown roles, and a skit starring Chris Prueitt and Kevin Sigman (with a rancorous cameo by Frank Hilgenberg) invoking the spirits that will linger in the building – at least until Florida Hospital demolishes it. The emotional highlight was a moving staged reading of "Place," an essay about those ineffable minutes before an audience arrives, written by the late actress Peni Lotoza.
It was overwhelming to see the main stage stripped of seating, but it's good to know much of the theater's inventory will live on after a series of sidewalk sales, with some lighting equipment ending up at Valencia's drama program. And I'm grateful I got one last chance to take some final photos of the dressing room's walls and ceiling, which were adorned with the signatures of nearly every past cast and crew member (including one or two of my own).
Theatre Downtown may be down for now, but they aren't out. Hopefully, the next time I write about the company, it will be to announce their new home, or at the very least, to review their 2015 Fringe Festival production.
And as one door closes, another one – or four – opens. Orlando's arts scene may have suffered a post-New Year's hangover, but after a slightly sluggish start, January is finishing with a surfeit of shows. Case in point: On the night before I attended Theatre Downtown's final hurrah, I stopped by two important art openings, and that wasn't the half of what debuted locally last weekend.
My first stop was Loch Haven Park's Mennello Museum of American Art, for the opening of Real Lives: Observations and Reflections by Dale Kennington. The artist, who attended the reception to celebrate her 80th birthday with a cake, paints large-scale canvases based on photographs observing everyday life. Though her technique appears unsophisticated up close, from a distance her rendering of shadows on skin creates a hyperreal effect I could almost fall into, and her subjects – from child pageant contestants to white supremacists to black barber shop patrons – represent a remarkable cross-section of society.
Later, I arrived at Snap Space for the Colonial Drive photography gallery's one-year anniversary party, and was astounded to have to drive around for several blocks to find a parking space. As I finally approached, the back parking lot was buzzing with the activity of almost 1,200 attendees. My wife was hijacked into a small nearby salon, emerging some minutes later with sparkling blue fingernails, while I explored the Art Mobile, a portable gallery built inside a U-Haul. The Daily City's Mark Baratelli experimented with the concept five years ago; this revival comes from UCF student Halee Sommers and FlorAngel Vargas.
The gallery's interior was equally popular, with so many patrons it was hard to properly appreciate the Identity exhibit featuring Mei Xian Qiu's propaganda-skewering translucent prints. Unfortunately, I arrived too late for the ceremonial relighting of the historic Cameo sign, which again blazes above the former movie house after being extinguished for 75 years, but I was in time to hear DJ Nigel John spin some records in the courtyard.
I was beat by the time my night ended, but I still missed two other major openings last weekend. Mad Cow Theatre opened Nell Benjamin's The Explorers Club, which runs through Feb. 22. (Note to Disney fans: Though the cast features Adventurers Club alumni and is directed by improv expert David Russell, this is a scripted comedy, not interactive.) And Theatre UCF premiered Tom Stoppard's ambitious, intellectual epic Arcadia, which closes Feb. 1.
That's just scratching the surface of all the shows I will sadly miss next month, as I'll be traveling for most of February. I'm making sure to catch Newsies at the Dr. Phillips Center and Cabaret at the Abbey before I go (check our blog for reviews), and am hoping to do the same for Dark Side of Saturn's Orpheus Descending at Orlando Shakes. But I'll be unable to see much-anticipated shows such as Doubt, a Parable at the Garden Theatre, Potted Potter at Dr. Phillips Center, Merry Wives of Windsor at Shakes and Dark Side of Saturn's Luv. Even if I were in town I couldn't cover it all, but too much art to handle is always a welcome problem.